Former Israeli Ambassador to Russia: PM Medvedev’s Professed Warmth Toward Jewish State Ahead of Upcoming Visit Does Not Contradict Moscow’s ‘Multi-Sectoral’ Ties With Iran, Hezbollah
Russia doesn’t consider it problematic or contradictory to strengthen ties with Israel while backing the regime in Syria or engaging in “multi-sectoral relations” with Iran, the Palestinians and other Muslim states, a Mideast and Russia expert at an Israel-based research organization told The Algemeiner on Sunday.
Zvi Magen, from the Institute for National Security Studies, was explaining the significance of Saturday night’s interview on Israel’s Channel 2 with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, ahead of his upcoming visit to the Jewish state and Palestinian Authority. During the interview, Medvedev stressed the “warm” relations that currently exist between Moscow and Jerusalem and those that he hopes will continue to develop in the future.
Magen — who served as Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine in 1993 and to Russia in 1998, as well as heading Nativ, the Liaison Bureau of the Prime Minister’s Office, which maintained contact with Jews in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War — said that the Russian president actually meant what he said. “It is true that bilateral economic and strategic cooperation between the two countries are good for the time being. And Russia clearly considers Israel important enough to warrant the effort.”
This situation could change, Magen said, “But currently it is in the interests of both sides.”
Magen dismissed claims in the Hebrew press last week — reported by The Algemeiner – that the IDF is in a panic about the encroachment of Russia’s only aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.
First of all, Magen said, “The IDF is not in a panic, because nothing is happening that it cannot handle. Secondly, Russia’s move was not directed at Israel. It was there to reinforce the troops fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This does not change the strategic balance in the area at all.”
In his one-on-one chat with Channel 2’s Yonit Levi, Medvedev said, “Russia and Israel can achieve many things together, for various reasons. My current goal as prime minister of Russia is to stimulate trade between our countries, to the benefit of both our markets… We have a number of key projects to step up cooperation in the fields of pharmacology, agricultural technology… energy and gas…”
Asked by Levi about Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and support for the brutal Assad regime, Medvedev replied:
“As you surely know, ISIS and other Islamist terrorist organizations in Syria and other countries in the region have recruited thousands of Russian citizens. Those people return from their ‘delegations’ like zombies…as experienced murderers and terrorists. We wouldn’t want them – upon their return from fighting in Syria – to decide to establish something similar in our country.”
As for Assad, Medvedev said, “I know him personally. One can view him in various ways. Some like him; others really don’t. That’s not the point. The point is that, at the moment, Assad is the only legitimate authority operating in Syria. He is the legitimate president. And if there is talk of regime change, it has to be done legitimately. I remember that during meetings with the Israeli leadership, I was told delicately, ‘We don’t support Assad, but it’s better to have someone in control of the situation – controlling the country – than to confront the unraveling of the country and creation of terrorist-ruled enclaves.”
Medvedev – who called the controversy surrounding the recent UNESCO resolution, which Russia supported, denying Jewish ties to the holy sites in Jerusalem “blown way out of proportion” — was more evasive when addressing the Israeli concern about weapons falling into the hands of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists.
“My premise is that in such a case, nobody would take measures that would increase tensions or the conflict,” he responded. “I think everybody understands this. In Syria, they certainly have to understand it. I hope everything will be ok…”
He then went on to reiterate that neither this, nor Russia’s alliance with Iran, “contradicts” its “warm relations with Israel, which we hope to preserve and cultivate. This is in fact the aim of my visit…”
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on his fourth trip to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Though, as Magen told The Algemeiner at the time, part of its purpose was to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Israel and Russia, “but his [Putin’s] interest in being a major player where resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned is core to his realpolitik.”
Russia, Magen explained, “is in trouble. It thought it would be able to ‘sell’ the Americans and Europeans all kinds of regional achievements. Meanwhile, Israel has its own issue with the United States, and flaunting its increased ties with Moscow is a way of saying, ‘America, where have you been? Ok, if you’re not doing your part, I have to do it alone, with the help of Russia.’”
Another shared interest, according to Magen, has to do with neither side’s desire for Iran to become a regional hegemon.